Girish Mahajan (Editor)

Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam

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Under construction

Construction cost
$6.4 billion USD

175 m

+251 91 614 0042

Blue Nile


Opening date
July 2017


Surface area
1,561 km²

Construction began
April 2011

Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam

Benishangul-Gumuz Region

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Aswan Dam, Gilgel Gibe III Dam, Lake Nasser, Tiran Island, Merowe Dam

The grand ethiopian renaissance dam

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD or Taehige; Amharic: ታላቁ የኢትዮጵያ ሕዳሴ ግድብ? Tālāqu ye-Ītyōppyā Hidāsē Gidib ), formerly known as the Millennium Dam and sometimes referred to as Hidase Dam, is a gravity dam on the Blue Nile River in Ethiopia currently under construction. It is in the Benishangul-Gumuz Region of Ethiopia, about 15 km (9 mi) east of the border with Sudan. At 6,000 MW, the dam will be the largest hydroelectric power plant in Africa when completed, as well as the 7th largest in the world. The storage reservoir has a surface area of 1561 km² at level of 640 m, i.e. 146 m behind the dam which holds a large volume of water equal to 79 billion m³. As of December 2016, the dam is nearly complete, and will take from 5 to 15 years to fill with water.


The potential impacts of the dam have been the source of severe regional controversy. The Government of Egypt, a country which relies heavily on the waters of the Nile, has demanded that Ethiopia cease construction on the dam as a preconditions to negotiations, sought regional support for its position, and some political leaders have discussed methods to sabotage it. Egypt has planned a diplomatic initiative to undermine support for the dam in the region as well as in other countries supporting the project such as China and Italy. However, other nations in the Nile Basin Initiative have expressed support for the dam, including Sudan, the only other nation downstream of the Blue Nile, which has accused Egypt of inflaming the situation. Ethiopia denies that the dam will have a negative impact on downstream water flows and contends that the dam will in fact increase water flows to Egypt by reducing evaporation on Lake Nasser. It has accused Egypt of being unreasonable; Egypt is demanding to increase its share of the Nile's water flow from 66% to 90%.


The eventual site for the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam was identified by the United States Bureau of Reclamation during a Blue Nile survey conducted between 1956 and 1964. The Ethiopian Government surveyed the site in October 2009 and August 2010. In November 2010, a design for the dam was submitted. On 31 March 2011, a day after the project was made public, a US$4.8 billion contract was awarded without competitive bidding to Salini Costruttori and the dam's foundation stone was laid on 2 April 2011 by then Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. A rock crushing plant has been constructed along with a small air strip for fast transportation. The first two generators are expected to become operational after 44 months of construction. Egypt, which lies downstream, opposes the dam which it believes will reduce the amount of water that it gets from the Nile. Zenawi argued, based on an unnamed study, that the dam would not reduce water availability downstream and would also regulate water for irrigation. In May 2011, it was announced that Ethiopia would share blueprints for the dam with Egypt so the downstream impact could be examined.

The dam was originally called "Project X", and after its contract was announced it was called the Millennium Dam. On 15 April 2011, the Council of Ministers renamed it Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. The Dam was first designed to generate 5,250 MW. However, due to the upgrading made on the power plant, its generation capacity uplifted to 6,000 MW from 5,250 MW, and six years later, the design has been made to add another 450 MW. Ethiopia has a potential for around 45,000 MW of hydropower. The dam is being funded by government bonds and private donations. It is slated for completion in July 2017.


The gravity dam will be 175 m (574 ft) tall, 1,800 m (5,906 ft) long and composed of roller-compacted concrete. The structural volume of the dam will be 10,000,000 m3 (13,000,000 cu yd). Its reservoir will have a storage capacity of 79 km3 (64,000,000 acre·ft) and surface area of 1,561 km2 (603 sq mi) when at a normal elevation of 640 m (2,100 ft) . The dam will have three spillways, the main one is located to the left of the dam and will be controlled by six sector gates and have a design discharge of 15,000 m3/s (530,000 cu ft/s). Flanking either side of an uncontrolled spillway at the center of the dam will be two power houses. The right will contain 10 x 375 MW Francis turbine-generators and the left will house six of the same turbine-generators. Supporting the dam and reservoir will be a 5 km (3 mi) long and 50 m (164 ft) high rock-fill saddle dam. To the right of the saddle dam will be a third spillway for emergencies.

Cost and financing

The Ethiopian government has stated that it intends to fund the entire cost of the dam by itself. It has issued a bond targeted at Ethiopians in the country and abroad to that end. The turbines and associated electrical equipment of the hydropower plants costing about US$1.8 billion are reportedly financed by Chinese banks. This would leave US$3 billion to be financed by the Ethiopian government through other means. The estimated US$4.8 billion construction cost, apparently excluding the cost of power transmission lines, corresponds to less than 15% of Ethiopia’s Gross Domestic Product of US$41.906 billion in 2012.


The main contractor will be the Italian company Salini Costruttori, which also served as primary contractor for the Gilgel Gibe II, Gilgel Gibe III, and Tana Beles dams. It is expected to consume 10 million metric tons of concrete, the government has pledged to use only domestically produced concrete. In March 2012, Salini awarded the Italian firm Tratos Cavi SPA a contract to supply low- and high-voltage cable for the dam. Alstom will provide the eight 375 MW Francis turbines for the project's first phase, at a cost of €250 million. As of April 2013, nearly 32 percent of the project is complete. Site excavation and some concrete placement is underway. One concrete batch plant has been completed with another under construction. Diversion of the Blue Nile was completed on 28 May 2013 and marked by a ceremony the same day. By January 2016 the dam had 4 million cubic meters of concrete poured, and the installation of the first two turbines was imminent. The first power production of 750 MW is slated for sometime later this year.


A major benefit of the dam will be hydropower production. The electricity to be produced by the hydropower plant is to be sold in Ethiopia and to neighboring countries including Sudan and possibly Egypt. Selling the electricity from the dam would require the construction of massive transmission lines to major consumption centers such as Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa and Sudan’s capital Khartoum, both located more than 400 km away from the dam. These sales would come on top of electricity that is expected to be sold from other large hydropower plants that are under construction in Ethiopia, such as Gilgel Gibe III.

Alleged over-sizing

The plant load factor of the planned hydropower plant – the expected electricity production divided by the potential production if the power plant was utilized permanently at full capacity – is only 33% compared to 45-60% for other, smaller hydropower plants in Ethiopia. Critics conclude that a smaller dam would have been more cost-effective. According to Asfaw Beyene, a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at San Diego State University (California), the dam and its hydropower plant are massively over-sized: "GERD’s available power output, based on the average of river flow throughout the year and the dam height, is about 2,000 megawatts, not 6,000. There is little doubt that the system has been designed for a peak flow rate that only happens during the 2-3 months of the rainy season. Targeting near peak or peak flow rate makes no economic sense."

Environmental and social impacts

It appears that some form of environmental study has been undertaken, since the press reported that an international panel reviewed an environmental study in 2012. The NGO International Rivers has commissioned a local researcher to make a field visit because so little information is available.

Public consultation about dams in Ethiopia is affected by the political climate in the country. International Rivers reports that "conversations with civil society groups in Ethiopia indicate that questioning the government’s energy sector plans is highly risky, and there are legitimate concerns of government persecution. Because of this political climate, no groups are actively pursuing the issues surrounding hydro-power dams, nor publicly raising concerns about the risks. In this situation, extremely limited and inadequate public consultation has been organised" during the implementation of major dams. In June 2011, Ethiopian journalist Reeyot Alemu was imprisoned after she raised questions about the proposed Grand Millennium Dam. Staff of International Rivers have received death threats. In the meantime, the former prime minister Meles Zenawi called opponents of the project "hydropower extremists" and "bordering on the criminal" at a conference of the International Hydropower Association (IHA) in Addis Abeba in April 2011. At the conference, the Ethiopian state power utility was embraced as a "Sustainability Partner" by the IHA.

Impact on Ethiopia

Since the Blue Nile is a highly seasonal river, the dam would reduce flooding downstream of the dam, including on the 40 km stretch within Ethiopia. On the one hand, the reduction of flooding is beneficial since it protects settlements from flood damage. On the other hand, it can be harmful, if flood recession agriculture is practiced in the river valley downstream of the dam since it deprives fields from being watered. The dam could also serve as a bridge across the Blue Nile, complementing a bridge that was under construction in 2009 further upstream. An independent assessment estimated that at least 5,110 people will be resettled from the reservoir and downstream area, and the dam is expected to lead to a significant change in the fishery. According to an independent researcher who conducted research in the area where the dam is being built, near to 20,000 people are being relocated. According to the same source, "a solid plan (is) in place for the relocated people" and those who have already been resettled "were given more than they expected in compensation". Locals have never seen a dam before and "are not completely sure what a dam actually is", despite community meetings in which affected people were informed about the impacts of the dam on their livelihoods. Except for a few older people, almost all locals interviewed "expressed hope that the project brings something of benefit to them" in terms of education and health services or electricity supply based on the information available to them. At least some of the new communities for those relocated will be downstream of the dam. The area around the reservoir will consist of a 5 km buffer zone for malaria control that will not be available for settlement. In at least some upstream areas erosion control measures will be undertaken in order to reduce siltation of the reservoir.

Impact on Sudan and Egypt

The precise impact of the dam on the downstream countries is not known. Egypt fears a temporary reduction of water availability due to the filling of the dam and a permanent reduction because of evaporation from the reservoir. Studies indicate that the primary factors which will govern the impacts during the reservoir filling phase include the initial reservoir elevation of the Aswan High Dam, the rainfall that occurs during the filling period and the negotiated arrangement between the three countries. These studies also show that only through close and continuous coordination, the risks of negative impacts can be minimized or eliminated. The reservoir volume (74 billion cubic meters) is about 1.5 times the average annual flow (49 billion cubic meters) of the Blue Nile at the Sudanese-Egyptian border. This loss to downstream countries could be spread over several years if the countries reach an agreement. Depending on the initial storage in the Aswan High Dam and this filling schedule of the GERD, flows into Egypt could be temporarily reduced, which may affect the income of two million farmers during the period of filling the reservoir. Allegedly, it would also "affect Egypt's electricity supply by 25 to 40 percent, while the dam is being built". However, hydropower accounts for less than 12 percent of total electricity production in Egypt in 2010 (14 out of 121 billion kWh), so that a temporary reduction of 25 percent in hydropower production translates into an overall temporary reduction in Egyptian electricity production of less than 3 percent. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam could also lead to a permanent lowering of the water level in Lake Nasser, if floods are stored instead in Ethiopia. This would reduce the current evaporation of more than 10 billion cubic meter per year, but it would also reduce the ability of the Aswan High Dam to produce hydropower to the tune of a 100 MW loss of generating capacity for a 3 m reduction of the water level. Significantly however, the increased storage in Ethiopia can provide a greater buffer to shortages in Sudan and Egypt during years of future drought, if the countries can reach a compromise.

The dam will retain silt. It will thus increase the useful lifetime of dams in Sudan – such as the Roseires Dam, the Sennar Dam and the Merowe Dam – and of the Aswan High Dam in Egypt. The beneficial and harmful effects of flood control would affect the Sudanese portion of the Blue Nile, just as it would affect the Ethiopian part of the Blue Nile valley downstream of the dam. Specifically, the GERD would reduce seasonal flooding of the plains surrounding the reservoir of the Roseires Dam located at Ad-Damazin, just as the Tekeze Dam, by retaining a reservoir in the deep gorges of the northern Ethiopian Highlands, had reduced flooding at Sudan's Khashm el-Girba Dam.

The reservoir, located in the temperate Ethiopian Highlands and up to 200 m deep, will experience considerably less evaporation than downstream reservoirs such as Lake Nasser in Egypt, which loses 12% of its water flow due to evaporation as the water sits in the lake for 10 months. Through the controlled release of water from the reservoir to downstream, this could facilitate an increase of up to 5% in Egypt's water supply, and presumably that of Sudan as well.

Reactions: cooperation and condemnation

Egypt has serious concerns about the project so that it requested to be granted inspection allowance on the design and the studies of the dam, in order to allay its fears, but Ethiopia has denied the request unless Egypt relinquishes its veto on water allocation. After a meeting between the Ministers of Water of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia in March 2012, Sudan's President Bashir said that he supported the building of the dam.

A Nile treaty signed by the upper riparian states in 2010, the Cooperative Framework Agreement, has not been signed by either Egypt or Sudan, as they claim it violates the 1959 treaty which gives Sudan and Egypt exclusive rights to the Nile's waters. The Nile Basin Initiative provides a framework for dialogue among all Nile riparian countries.

Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan established an International Panel of Experts to review and assess the study reports of the dam. The panel consists of 10 members; 6 from the three countries and 4 international in the fields of water resources and hydrologic modelling, dam engineering, socioeconomic, and environmental. The panel held its fourth meeting in Addis Ababa in November 2012. It reviewed documents about the environmental impact of the dam and visited the dam site. The panel submitted its preliminary report to the respective governments at the end of May 2013. Although the full report has not been made public, and will not be until it is reviewed by the governments, Egypt and Ethiopia both released details. The Ethiopian government stated that, according to the report, "the design of the dam is based on international standards and principles" without naming those standards and principles. It also said that the dam "offers high benefit for all the three countries and would not cause significant harm on both the lower riparian countries". According to Egyptian government, however, the report "recommended changing and amending the dimensions and the size of the dam".

On 3 June 2013 while discussing the International Panel of Experts report with President Mohammad Morsi, Egyptian political leaders suggested methods to destroy the dam, including support for anti-government rebels. Unbeknownst to those at the meeting, the discussion was televised live. Ethiopia requested that the Egyptian Ambassador explain the meeting. Morsi's top aide apologized for the "unintended embarrassment" and his cabinet released a statement promoting ""good neighborliness, mutual respect and the pursuit of joint interests without either party harming the other." An aide to the Ethiopian Prime Minister stated that Egypt is "...entitled to day dreaming" and cited Egypt's past of trying to destabilize Ethiopia. Morsi reportedly believes that it is better to engage Ethiopia rather than attempt to force them. However, on 10 June 2013, he said that "all options are open" because "Egypt's water security cannot be violated at all," clarifying that he was "not calling for war," but that he would not allow Egypt's water supply to be endangered.

In January 2014, Egypt left negotiations over the dam, citing Ethiopian intransigence. Ethiopia countered that Egypt had set an immediate halt on construction and an increase of its share to 90% as the preconditions, which were deemed wholly unreasonable. Egypt has since launched a diplomatic offensive to undermine support for the dam, sending its Foreign Minister, Nabil Fahmi to Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to garner support. Egyptian media outlets declared the visits productive and that the leaders of those nations had expressed "understanding" and "support" of Egypt's position. However, the accuracy of such statements are questionable; when Sudanese Foreign Minister Ali Karti criticised Egypt for "inflaming the situation" through its statements on the dam, and that it was considering the interests of both sides Al-Masry Al-Youm declared that Sudan had "proclaimed its neutrality". The campaign is intensive and wide-reaching; in March 2014, for the first time, just Uganda, Kenya, Sudan, and Tanzania were invited by Egypt to participate in the Nile Hockey Tournament. Foreign Minister Fahmi and Water Resources Minister Muhammad Abdul Muttalib planned visits to Italy and Norway to express their concerns and try to compel them to pull their support for the GERD.

In April 2014 Ethiopia's Prime Minister invited Egypt and Sudan to another round of talks over the dam and Nabil Fahmi stated in May 2014 that Egypt was still open to negotiations. Following an August 2014 Tripartite Ministerial-level meeting, the three nations agreed to set up a Tripartite National Committee (TNC) meeting over the dam. The first TNC meeting occurred from 20 to 22 September 2014 in Ethiopia.


Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam Wikipedia

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